What’s New with the Illinois School Report Card

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released its annual school report card last week. There is one significant change to the report card this year as more of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes into effect: site-specific expenditure reporting. That means that the school report card now shows the federal and state/local funding for each school in your school district. Illinois PTA worked closely with ISBE and other stakeholders over the past 18 months to ensure that the data were presented in an as easy to understand format as possible. Here’s what you need to know.

 

  1. Site-specific expenditure reporting shows how your district is spending its money at each school on a per student basis. Prior to this data becoming available on the report card, only a district’s total spending per pupil was available. With this data, administrators, school boards, families, and community members can see how a school district is allocating their funds among their schools.

 

  1. Not all of a district’s spending is included. The per pupil amounts being reported are regular and ongoing PreK-12 education expenses and are broken down further between federal funding and state/local funding. The latter does include items like donations from PTAs or grants from a school foundation. Also included are each school’s share of central district expenses (e.g., staff at the administrative building). Among the items not included are spending for  capital projects (e.g., building/renovating school buildings), debt service, fire prevention and safety spending, adult education services, and other spending not directly tied to educating students from age 3 to 12th grade.

 

  1. The data are presented in several different ways. The primary visual you will see on the school finances page (under the “District Environment” menu bar) of the report card is a bar chart with each school in the district represented by a vertical bar of per student spending ranked from lowest to highest. Below that bar chart is a data table with the information for each school in numerical form. Finally, a clickable link just above the bar chart will take you to a scatterplot where you can see per student expenditures graphed against several different variables such as the school’s summative designation, enrollment, English language learners, low-income students, or students with Individual education plans (IEPs).

 

  1. The data are a starting point for conversations. The fact that your child’s school is low or high in per pupil spending relative to the other schools in your district does not tell the entire story. Your district had the opportunity to add a narrative section to explain why the data look the way they do, so check to see if that information is included on the school report card page. Note that this being the first year with this data, many school districts may not have done this. Also consider what things could explain some of the differences, such as school population, high school vs. elementary school, a bilingual education program at a specific school, or a concentration of students from low-income families or with special needs. Also consider how students are performing (see the scatterplot chart with schools’ summative designations)—a school with low cost per student but high student achievement is a cause for celebrating their success, not complaining that the district isn’t spending enough there. ISBE has some information sheets that can help you dig into the data on site-based expenditure reporting (Overview and Exploring the Visualizations, which has some questions to consider as you explore the data). Use the data to have conversations at your PTA meetings or with your school’s principal or district’s superintendent and school board.

 

The new site-based expenditure reporting data has the potential to spark some powerful conversations in your school district about student success, equity, and overall school funding. PTA does its best work when we advocate for all children, and this year’s school report card provides your PTA with the opportunity to have deep, meaningful conversations with your school district that can have a more profound effect on your child’s education than almost any other activity your PTA could pursue.

 

Other Changes

There are a few other changes to the state report card:

  • Test results for the elementary and middle school grades are now from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), and data from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment have been moved to the “Retired Tests” section.
  • A growth measurement determined from the IAR has been added for elementary and middle schools. This data illustrates how students have improved year over year compared to their peers who had the same IAR score in math or English. It is a measure of how much students have improved, regardless of whether they are meeting the Illinois Learning Standard or not. You can find out more from this ISBE information sheet.
  • New subgroups have been added:
    • Students with disabilities
    • Students categorized as Migrant
    • Students from Military Families
    • Students categorized as Youth in Care
    • Students categorized as Homeless (High school graduation rate only)
  • The “5 Essentials Survey” has been replaced with the “School Climate Survey” and displays information from the one of three ISBE-approved climate surveys the school has used.
  • Data from the Illinois Science Assessment has been added for grades 5 and 8 and high school biology.

The State We’re In 2019

Three years ago, Advance Illinois released a report summarizing the current state of education in Illinois. That report, using data and maps to show just how widespread the challenges in funding, poverty, and achievement were across the state, was a crucial factor in the General Assembly passing the new Evidence-Based Funding model the following year. Advance Illinois has now released a follow-up report looking at how things have changed over the last two years.

Like the previous report, The State We’re In 2019 uses data from school districts and mapping to illustrate where Illinois schools are today. A few key points from the report are:

  • Access to early childhood education for low-income students continues to be far short of what is needed
  • Kindergarten readiness is now being measured, and the majority of students enter kindergarten are not fully prepared in all three developmental areas. While white students are generally better prepared than their peers from low-income households or families of color, less than one-third of white students across the state are fully prepared for kindergarten.
  • Illinois student growth (improvement in proficiency) is among the leaders in the nation (sixth for math and eighth for reading between grades 3 and 8), but actual proficiency continues to lag the national average. Put another way, while Illinois is doing well at improving student performance, this growth is not fast enough nor far-reaching enough to overcome the early education deficits to prepare students for college and careers.
  • Illinois ranks in the bottom 10 states for student access to school counselors. Access to counselors can be critical in preparing students for college and careers.
  • More Illinois students are entering and completing college, but equity gaps persist.
  • The Evidence-Based Funding model is working to direct more funding to those schools furthest from adequate funding, but the majority of districts are still well below 90% of adequacy.

You can download the report from Advance Illinois and check out the interactive maps to show how various measures have changed for each school district, including the ability to focus on a particular district’s performance.

Help Your Child Spring Ahead

Illinois PTA has often highlighted the resourcesand researchdone by Learning Heroes. As the annual state assessment, now known as the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), approaches, Learning Heroes has released a new resource for families called Spring Ahead.

Spring Ahead provides tools and information to help families support their child as they get ready for the annual state assessment. Among the resources are:

There is also a send-home PDF flyer in both English and Spanishthat summarizes the Spring Ahead information and directs families to the Learning Heroes website. Help your child Spring Aheadby visiting the site today.

New Report Digs Into the Causes of the Disconnect Between How Families Think Their Child is Achieving and How the Child is Actually Achieving

Last year, Learning Heroes released the results of their parent survey that showed that nearly 90% of parents regardless of race, income, geography, and income levels believe that their child is working at or above their grade level. Yet national data shows that only about one-third of students are actually performing that well. This year, Learning Heroes surveyed parents to dig into the reasons behind that disconnect.

Their research indicated that there are three key drivers of this disconnect:

  1. Parenting styles drive how parents engage in their child’s education.
  2. Report cards sit at the center of the disconnect.
  3. The disconnect is solvable.

Effect of Parenting Styles

Learning Heroes’ research discovered that there are four different parenting styles regarding how they engage with their child’s education. These four styles can be used by teachers and administrators to inform their communication and engagement with families. The four styles are:

  1. A-OKs:About 25% of parents are confident that their child is performing in the classroom and on their annual assessment and use both to track achievement. The survey indicates that these families are open to more information, but feel like they have what they need.
  2. Problem Solvers:About 22% of parents believe their child is struggling academically, socially, or emotionally. These parents already spend a lot of time communicating with teachers and trying to address challenges at school. For these parents, the disconnect is a secondary concern because they already know their child is struggling. The survey indicates that they would welcome more engagement and know that there is more they could be doing.
  3. Protectors:23% of parents have high expectations for their child, but it is a false sense of security since they are more likely to rely on report card grades than other parents do. These families report the highest level of involvement, with 40% saying they attended a PTA or other school parent organization meeting in the last year.[emphasis added] Information about the performance gaps gets their attention and makes them question their assumptions. These families are very interested in more information and in engaging with the school to close the disconnect for their child.
  4. Accepters:The remaining 30% of parents are more hands-off. They are less college-oriented and believe their child is “fine.” This group of families is the least engaged of the four groups, and they are skeptical about the disconnect. These families will be the hardest to engage on this topic and on getting them to be more involved in their child’s education, and as a result, will need targeted strategies to reach them.

The Role of Report Cards

A second key finding of the Learning Heroes survey is the role that report cards play in creating the disconnect. While teachers have many different data points about how a student is actually learning and performing, families tend to rely mainly on report cards. The survey shows that parents see report cards as the most important tool for understanding how their child is achieving, and that’s not surprising given that report cards are the one piece of information that they reliably receive.

In contrast, teachers consider report cards only the third most important source of information on how a student is doing, behind regular communication between families and the teacher and graded work on assignments, tests, and quizzes. The reason for this is that teachers indicate that report card grades also reflect progress, effort, and participation in class as well as mastery of the material.

While 90% of teachers report that it’s important to communicate with families about how their child is doing academically and to tell those families when their child is struggling, they also report a number of barriers to providing that information. Among them are:

  • 71% say that “parents blame the teacher when their child isn’t performing at the appropriate level.”
  • 51% say “parents might not believe the teacher, especially if that information contrasts with what the parent sees at home.”
  • More than 20% say “parents could elevate the matter to the school principal, which could create problems for the teacher.”
  • Nearly 25% say “teachers are not given the proper support from school administrators to relay this type of information.”
  • 53% of teachers say they have no formal training or workshops on how to have difficult conversations with parents, and only 29% are very satisfied with their support in these situations.
  • Teachers are more likely to contact families about behavior problems (82%) than about academic problems such as lack of progress over the grading period (79%), dropping more than one letter grade (73%), receiving low scores on standardized tests throughout the year (71%), or failing to meet grade-level standards on annual state tests (70%). Middle school teachers are less likely to reach out to families for any of these reasons than elementary school teachers.

Solving the Disconnect

The Learning Heroes survey also provides some direction on how schools and PTAs can help solve this disconnect between how families believe their child is performing and their actual performance. A key part of solving that disconnect is sharing information.

The survey indicated that the 88% of parents who think their child is performing at grade level in math declines to 61% when told their child has a B in math and didn’t meet expectations on the state test. That percentage declines even further to 52% when they are also told that their child’s school received an overall performance rating of C.

In addition, when families learn about the disconnect, the percentage that agree or strongly agree that report cards are the best way to know how their child is doing academically declines from 60% to 34%. Even so, the majority of parents when informed of the disconnect are more likely to see how that information could apply to “parents in low-performing schools” or “other parents at my child’s school” than to “me and my child.”

Finally, Learning Heroes developed a tool called From Puzzle to Plan: A Family Worksheet that should be available soon. The worksheet puts a grade level indicator based on test scores side-by-side with feedback from the parent, teacher, and child. The tool also provides families with questions to ask in a parent-teacher conference and references to tailored, skills-based resources they can use to help their child at home. The worksheet is designed to help families engage in more productive conversations with teachers about their child.